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Notre Dame has one goal for today's bowl game: win

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Kelly: 'Any game worth playing is worth winning'

Friday, December 27, 2013 - 10:46 pm

NEW YORK – There are a number of reasons why college football fans are not entirely enthralled with Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl match-up of Notre Dame and Rutgers.

The two teams are a combined four games (14-10) over .500 entering the game, so it isn't like these teams have been world beaters this fall.

The game is Saturday, as opposed to a New Year's Day game, so that alone dulls the shine of the bowl.

And the 12:15 p.m. kickoff (ESPN) isn't a primetime game that will draw a large viewing audience. But don't tell any of that to the actual participants, because they don't want to hear any of the negativity.

“You hear a lot about this not being a BCS game,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “But (Rutgers coach Kyle Flood) and I are competitors, first of all. So any game that you put in front of us, we want to win the game.”

The excitement generated by the Irish a year ago, as they won 12 regular season games, makes this year's 8-4 mark less than easy to accept from the Notre Dame fan base. But Kelly pointed out that great success and where this team is today, is really a fine line.

“If you look at the last couple of years, we we're probably as close to being an eight-win team as we were a 12-win team,” Kelly pointed out.

That point is well taken. Last season was magical for this program, as they repeatedly pulled out close game after close game – always managing to find a way to win. That didn't happen this season.

“We were probably as close to being a 10-win team this year, as we were an eight-win team,” Kelly continued. “So we are very close to being able to put double-digit wins each year.”

Winning is a nice cure-all for a lot of ailments, and beating Rutgers (6-6) will go a long way in changing the reflection of the 2013 season in the future. The seniors weren't thrilled to go 8-4, but finishing with nine victories is something that only one other team under Kelly has done in South Bend.

“We've seen eight wins in our program,” Kelly said. “We've seen eight and we've seen 12. Nine is one that definitely looks better for us as a group.

"I think this is a game that all of our guys want to win because we're competitors.”

Mixed emotions for Irish seniors

Lost in the game-planning of trying to beat the Scarlet Knights, is the fact that win or lose, this will be the final time that many of the Irish will be able to take the field and represent this program.

That alone, makes this bowl game meaningful for the departing players.

In the summer of 2009, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese arrived in South Bend and were assigned to be roommates, and today's game will be the last time that the two inside linebackers share time on the field together.

“I've really have thought about that,” Fox explained. “It's something that you have to prepare for, because I know that it's going to be emotional to play my last game here.

“But this is a great place to play it, at Yankee Stadium. That's a great venue, so I'm excited, I'm nervous, and I'm really looking forward to it.”